climbing · family · Guest Post · kids and exercise

Climbing with kids (Guest post)

by Jennifer Szende

I am a recreational climber. I bouldered through both of my pregnancies. As my pregnancy advanced, I gained weight and muscle mass in proportion to each other, or so it seemed at the time. My center of gravity shifted forwards, and my body shape pushed me farther away from the wall, but I was still able to move my body in this familiar way, in a familiar setting, even as my body became less and less familiar. I primarily shifted to traversing (climbing sideways, rather than upwards), and I down climbed rather than jumping on the few (very easy) vertical bouldering problems that I still felt comfortable on.

My first pregnancy was in parallel with Beth Rodden’s pregnancy, so from my second semester onwards, I was following her blog for posts about climbing when pregnant, and fortnightly interviews with climbers and mountaineers about their pregnancy experiences. The interviews gave me some previews of what postpartum climbing or climbing with kids might be like. I read about professional and amateur climbing mothers from around the world, and the variety of ways that climbing became part of their postpartum and family life. It gave me a little preview of the different ways that it might be difficult, but might still be possible to keep climbing once I had kids. The differences and diversities were as important as the similarities.

Even so, I was still surprised to experience a complete loss of technique and muscle tone postpartum, with both of my pregnancies. My climbing gym had a mother and baby climbing group with an instructor, which was a very positive experience for me, but essentially required me to learn how to climb all over again with what felt like a third unfamiliar body. Although I had climbed all through my pregnancy, I still experienced a significant loss of core and ab strength. Basically, stretching your abdominals outward for a prolonged period of time, or adding a substantial amount of weight that sits on your pelvic floor, changes those muscle groups one way or another. Climbing postpartum was difficult in unexpected ways. In terms of the logistics of climbing, there were two primary changes:

(1) I couldn’t use lower abs to raise my legs, especially on an overhanging climb, and

(2) I found it difficult to use core strength to keep myself on the wall.

Essentially, I had to learn how to climb with yet another new body (although this time it was on very little sleep and a base level of constant exhaustion). I found some resources to help me out. Beth Rodden’s postpartum posts continued, and chronicled her very difficult postpartum recovery. The relevant part of the blogosphere has grown in the past several years, and I think this advice is really sensible. Especially this: keep making plans, and keep trying, because “The more times you try, the more times you will actually get some climbing done”.

Here are some of the techniques that my mom and baby climbing class helped me develop:

  • Concentrate on volume rather than difficulty to begin with. I would aim to climb all of the easy climbs in the gym (V0 and V0- especially), and potentially climb them twice.
  • Climb as many (easy) problems as possible within a very short timer (e.g. 5 minutes) then do active rest for longer (7 minutes), and you will avoid ‘cooling down’ between climbing reps.
  • Reps on an easy climb (up and down) to build endurance.
  • Do some core and conditioning during rest periods (e.g. plank for 1 minute, V-sits, squats holding a baby, wall sits for 1 minute, piston squats, etc). Or, just do some kegels, if that works for you.
  • Mostly ignore overhanging problems until other techniques are back, although using overhanging problems for lower ab workout (basically reps of hang from straight arms and try to raise one or both legs) was a way to check in with conditioning.

Somewhere along the way, I read and heard about a number of people who took parental leave trips to climbing destinations. Two or three families in my climbing circle did extended road trips through Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, Colorado, Utah, California, and other climbing destinations in the US. My partner was able to take an extended parental leave, and we ended up spending most of it in a series of climbing destinations. The highlight was spending nearly 2 months in Fontainebleau with an 8-9 month old, and it was motivating from the moment we booked the flight. Climbing with a baby in Font is such an absolute delight. (It was also an excellent lesson in comparative European parental leave policies.) There are guidebooks that rate climbing areas around Fontainebleau by stroller friendliness, list rest day activities by children’s ages, and highlight gites with high chair and crib availability. It was such a delight, in fact, that we have been back to Font 3 more times over the last several years, and we are not alone.

I think, essentially, that climbing postpartum made me feel like I was part of a community much more so than any other postpartum activity I did. I attended mom and baby yoga, caregiver and baby story time at the library, and a couple of different parent and baby community health groups. But climbing was the one where I felt the most connected to the other adults in the group. And, it turns out, that climbing with kids has given me access to another supportive community. 

Pregnant bouldering

Jenny Szende is a philosopher, writer, climber, cyclist, and mother based in Toronto.

family · kids and exercise

New to Zwift: Babies on Board!

In its latest update Zwift announced a new workout collection called, Baby on Board. It’s a workout collection consisting of shorter workouts for expectant moms, new parents, or any riders who are looking for “a less intense, yet still motivating, workout.” There are lots of choices, 24 new workouts to choose from. I’m often looking for something shorter to fit into the middle of my day, and/or good recovery day options. I think I might try one! You can read in Zwift Insider about the new release.

“Organized Chaos” sounds good!

Jennifer Szende, a sometimes guest blogger here, brought the new series to my attention. We both agreed that it could wrong in a variety of ways but mostly Zwift seems to be getting inclusion right.

She writes, “I would have killed for this much online, accessible content when I was on maternity leave. This many people checking in. This many ways to feel connected while stuck at home. So, I can see ways that it could be done badly, but am hopeful that it would help a lot of people to feel seen.”

I’ve been enjoying the recognition on Zwift that some people are choosing to ride inside because they’re parents. One of my favourite group rides is the DIRT ride. I thought mtb bikes but no, it’s Dads Inside Riding Trainers. I nearly left and excused myself the first time. I’m not a Dad. Oops! But there were lots of moms too and some cat and dog parents in for the mix. The only really Dad feature were the jokes. So many Dad jokes. But the pace was good, the ride was well organized, and I enjoyed the camaraderie of what for most people–judging by time zones–was a quick ride before dinner.

See also Zwift Mamas and on Facebook there’s Zwift Badass Mamas.

femalestrength · fitness · football · kids and exercise · soccer · team sports

Warren vs The Wolves: What To Tell Your Teenager Daughters About Sports, Power, and Taking Over the World

This week I’ve shared a post with my online teaching community, The Activist Classroom, about Sarah DeLappe’s amazing 2016 play, The Wolves. The play follows nine powerful young women, 16- and 17-year-olds, through their indoor soccer season; in it I find a different kind of future to the one that Elizabeth Warren imagines when she fears, in her primary concession speech on 5 March, that we might need to wait four more years for an American woman to come into real power.

If you’re wondering how to inspire your teenage daughter – OR your teenage son, or young people of all genders around you… and maybe yourself too! – this post is for you.

(Read the post on The Activist Classroom here.)

***

Last night, Elizabeth Warren dropped out of the 2020 Democratic primary race, leaving Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders to duke it out for a shot at Agent Orange in November. She was the last of a remarkably diverse group of contenders, ground-breaking numbers of whom were women. I read, crestfallen, all the commentary on the “fall” of Warren last night and this morning, as it tried to remind me that, in the end, being smart, experienced, level-headed, and a powerfully galvanizing public speaker was not enough, is never enough, for a women to overcome the “electability” factor.

Sitting at lunch yesterday with a feminist friend and colleague from the states, we commiserated; “I don’t think we will see a female president in our lifetime,” she said.

The_Wolves_pic_by_Dahlia_Katz
These are The Wolves; keep reading. (Photo from the Howland Company production at Streetcar Crowsnest, Toronto, October 2018)

As she reached the final stages of this primary race, Warren stood unabashedly for every smart and capable woman who has ever been asked to stand down, implicitly or explicitly, because of her gender. She was a warrior on the stage, calling out privilege and hypocrisy. In one of my favourite moments from the primary race, she asked an Iowa debate crowd to look around them: “Collectively,” she said, the men on stage with her “have lost 10 elections. The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they’ve been in, are the women, Amy and me.”

True to this fighting form, Warren’s concession speech last night spoke directly to the pedagogical consequences of her departure. “One of the hardest parts of this,” she said as she conceded the competition, “is all those little girls who are going to have to wait four more years.”

12WOLVESJP-superJumbo
Four more years? Or right f#$king now? The Wolves burst forth off Broadway in September 2016.

Given America’s penchant for supporting diversity in theory, and then choosing male, White supremacism in practice, I’m not sure four more years (as my friend and colleague noted) is going to do it. And the US is hardly alone here; Canada has had but one female prime minister, Kim Campbell, and she was the “fall guy” who took the political hit after the collapse of Brian Mulroney’s neoliberal Tories in the early 1990s. There are lots of other examples I could cite from the political landscapes of the so-called “developed West” (Julia Gillard, anyone?), but I’m getting tired just thinking about it.

(Thank heavens for, and long live the reign of, Jacinda Ardern, and shout out to the amazing women fighting for political justice in so many other countries around the world.)

So: let’s turn away from politics for a bit, and let’s think about that charge of four more, long years.

What can, and will, our young women learn in those four years about their strength and their power, as well as about the consequences of that old patriarchal saw, “likability”? How might we foreground – give space and light and air and time to – the former, and use them to challenge the misogynist perniciousness of the latter? What tools are already in place for us to share different kinds of lessons about our collective feminist capability, about young women’s overwhelming strength?

It so happens, this week of all weeks, that I spent part of Monday reading a terrific play, The Wolves, by Sarah DeLappe. The Wolves follows the eponymous team of indoor soccer players, nine 16- and 17-year old young women, through the winter bowels of their season. They warm up, play, and warm down again; get sick and get better; discuss the difficult material they are learning in school (the show opens with a volley about the ethical complexities of the Khmer Rouge!); talk frankly about both their bodies (pads or tampons?) and about their creepy coach (who once asked them to warm up in their sports bras… He never appears on stage; he’s plainly not a factor in their incredible on-field success.). Finally, they weather a terrible accident together.

Contrasting shots of the same moment, Still Life with Orange Slices: off Broadway, left, and at Streetcar Crowsnest, right.

Across five scenes we watch them be, variously, athletes, students of the world, and complex individuals, together; there are tougher girls and quieter girls, the brainy girl and the new girl, but nobody is a stereotype – no-one is just one thing. They are a group, finding their (incredible, near-unbeatable!) strength together, coordinating their play together, growing into their power together. They are vulnerable but they are also a team of winners – and they know it.

I’m currently writing about The Wolves for a collection of essays about sports and performance; I was invited to contribute by colleagues who know I have a side-line in feminist sports writing. (If you’re reading this on Fit is a Feminist Issueplease check out The Activist Classroom, my other online home!) I gamely said yes to this invitation because the topic interested me, but I didn’t suggest The Wolves as my focus; the editors handed it to me, and until this week I hadn’t realized what a remarkable piece of teaching – let alone what a great piece of drama – it is.

Lots of young women have poor memories of grade-school gym class, and conflicted, if not difficult, memories of playing on sports teams as adolescents or teenagers. My own memories of childhood softball and floor hockey, high school track (VERY briefly), and university rowing (ditto) are of a reproduction of failure: I was larger than the average girl, I felt awkward in my body, my hand-eye coordination was a bit crap, and I received the kind of feedback from coaches (as opposed to, say, actual coaching from coaches…) that reaffirmed my cementing view of myself (fat/uncoordinated/not a good enough girl on-field or off). Eventually, even when I think (now) I could have succeeded brilliantly (track; rowing), I gave up, because I couldn’t overcome that inner sense of failure – not just failure as an athlete, but failure as a woman.

(Side note: none of the coaches I worked with helped, not women nor men. Amazing how well we reproduce patriarchy on the sports field, when we aren’t thoughtful about our words and actions! I can empathize fully with the Wolves; I’d have left my coach in the stands too, if I could have.)

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Hard play means conflict; negotiation; team work is hard. But these sisters are doing it for themselves – no creepy male coach required.

The Wolves ends with the kind of plot twist you might expect in a lesser piece of work, but as in its handling of young women athletes, here it defies expectations. Nothing gets wrapped up. Fights are not resolved; they are just sidelined while the team holds space for one another, with imperfect generosity. The young women warm up, move their bodies together, and talk. Then, all of a sudden, one of the team’s moms appears.

She is the only “adult” in the show, and she’s onstage only for about five minutes. But this is long enough for her to interrupt this young women’s space, this circle of astroturf and passing games and honest, difficult girl talk. She seizes the space, not aware at all of how she’s usurped it. The teammates sit and listen, stunned but unfailingly kind. Eventually, she leaves, and they elect to chant their battle cry. Huddled together, faces away from us, their song builds, their bodies bounce, then jump, then fly: WE. ARE. THE. WOLVES. WE! ARE! THE! WOLVES!

14DELAPPE1-superJumbo
Rehearsing for The Wolves in New York, 2016. 

I wonder, this morning, whether Elizabeth Warren is maybe that soccer mom at the end of the play. Whether she has perhaps underestimated the circle of women around her, misread the signs. Do we need to wait four more years to put a woman into “real” power, to overcome the ridiculous bullshit that is the “electability” factor? Maybe, but maybe not. Perhaps we need to look away from the old messaging, and perhaps we also need to look toward new spaces to locate the women’s power that we can’t yet fully see. In Sweden, Greta Thunberg started skipping school, sat down in front of a government building, and started a global movement. On their suburban astroturf in the dead of winter, The Wolves sounded their battle cry, and changed the shape of “girl plays” forever.

Let’s listen to these powerful young voices, honour them in the spaces they have adopted as their seats of power, and encourage them to re-conceive what power means – over the course of these next four years, and beyond.

Not planning on waiting,

Kim

 

advertising · body image · charity · fitness · kids and exercise · Martha's Musings · trackers

Kids and fitness trackers: the holiday edition (not)

 

TW: weightloss mentioned; negative self talk examples included.

By MarthaFitat55

Almost two years ago this March coming, I wrote about targetting kids for weight loss campaigns and fitness trackers. The nutshell: not a great idea because kids are vulnerable.

I was reminded of that piece when this article came across my feed describing how UNICEF, the United Nations children’s fund has developed a tracker that allows kids to feed other children when they reach certain step goals.

I’m going to let that sink in for a moment.

North American kids — largely affluent, well fed, and probably mostly white — are being told use this tracker and you will feed the poor somewhere else.

You can’t escape the irony here; the colonialist, patriarchally coated irony of having privileged kids walking their walk to good works.

danielle-macinnes-d9IFdsA1HIA-unsplash
Images shows young white female-presenting child looking at a quarter cupcake on a plate.  Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

Article author Angela Lashbrooks says this about the idea: A punitive or even rewards-based system to encourage young people to move more won’t be effective in the mid or long term, and could cause or worsen obsessive thoughts and behaviors in some kids.

That’s because there isn’t a lot of good evidence showing trackers work with kids and teens:

One 2019 study found that teenage subjects actually became less likely to engage in moderate or vigorous physical activity after five weeks of wearing a Fitbit. It suggested that the tracker appeared to weaken the inherent motivation and self-determination needed to compel kids to be active. Another study, from 2017, saw similar results: After an initial surge in interest in exercise spanning a few weeks, the kids mostly stopped engaging with the trackers and actively resisted them, claiming that they were inaccurate and therefore not trustworthy.

While our kids on this continent are mostly sedentary and we should be concerned with the amount of screen time they engage in, getting kids to wear trackers and get their fitness on by appealing to an altruistic goal is problematic.

Kids follow what they see. Kids also know when they are being gamed. I can’t imagine what it would be like to wake up on Christmas morning and discover a tracker under the tree. Given all the negative messages we send out about size and what fitness looks like, I can see the thought processes now:

Parental units gave me a tracker! Trackers are used by people who want to lose weight. Parents must think I need to lose weight. Parents must think I am fat. Fat people are ugly. Parents must think I am ugly. Parents won’t love me if I’m fat. Parents won’t love me anymore if I don’t lose weight. …

Unless a tracker is something the child has spontaneously on their own expressed an interest in, there are better ways to get your kid engaged in fitness than planting this kind of non-gift under the tree.

If you want to focus on a healthier, more active lifestyle, buy swim passes for everyone. Or sign them up for that bike repair workshop so they can fix their bikes on their own. Or plot walking routes in your community and track the steps as a world wide adventure.

If social action is on your list of things, then talk as a family about supporting community agencies who help vulnerable kids and families throughout the year and not just in holiday season. This article offers some great insights into why giving should be a daily thing and not a holiday one-off.

Gifts that focus on self-improvement aren’t really gifts in my opinion. They are projections of your own desires. How about you? What do you think would be more appropriate for gift giving?

MarthaFitat55 is not a fan of self-improvement gifts for any occasion. She gets her fit on through walking, swimming, yoga and powerlifting. But not all at once.

fitness · kids and exercise · strength training · weight lifting

“How much do you bench?” and other signs of ignorance

I am a middle school teacher, and therefore spend my days surrounded by sweet, well-intentioned, and deeply ignorant little humans. I love my students, and I am often amazed at their unique perspectives, their senses of humor, and their boundless energy. I am also often amazed at how deeply entrenched in the public zeitgeist they are already. Their mental sponges have soaked up popular opinions without skepticism or discernment. As a result, they can be a challenging combination of opinionated and without practical experience. Their assumptions around personal fitness, nutrition, and body size are especially illustrative of this reality.

I choose to teach with a very open style. I believe that the best learning comes about when we share stories and make personal connections with the material, and so I freely share much of my life with my students. Beyond being my philosophy of education, it is also just very authentic for me to be open and transparent. I have never been very good at masking my emotions or filtering my responses.

Woman in a black sports bra and leggings holding a dumbbell over her head during a lift
(Photo from Unsplash)

In any case, this penchant for sharing myself means that it is not uncommon for me to mention my workouts with a class—maybe I’m discussing Newton’s laws and drawing an example from a recent lifting session at the gym. And usually, after the first incredulous question, “You lift weights?” the immediate follow-up question will be, “oh yeah, how much do you bench?”

And I get stumped. I imagine my more skeptical students taking the inevitable pause as proof that I’m deceiving them about my weightlifting (I clearly do not fit their mental image of someone who strength trains regularly). But what I am actually stopped by is how overwhelmingly difficult it is to retrace their misconceptions back far enough to answer their question. Where do I begin?

Firstly, I want to explain, it takes years of lifting to build any sort of visible muscle for most of us, and how visible it is is highly dependent on how much body fat you have. And, as a cis-female, I don’t have the necessary hormones to encourage huge muscle growth, even with years in the gym.

Secondly, you can lift for strength without significantly increasing the size of your muscles.

Thirdly, you can lift for strength or muscle growth without ever maxing out your lifts or learning what your “one rep maxes” are.

Fourthly, barbell bench pressing is not the best exercise if your goals are functional strength of the pectoral and supporting muscles of the chest, shoulders and back—dumbbells will actually require further stabilizing and therefore may be a better exercise for overall fitness.

Fifthly, strength athletes who are not powerlifters aim for balanced training, which means they don’t usually specialize in a few moves like the bench press (unless they’re specifically training for a powerlifting meet).

And finally and far most-importantly, there is value in strength training even if you cannot lift an impressive amount of weight at any given time, since the point is working at the edge of your limits, wherever they may be. The skill and discipline of lifting is the point of the work, and our goals are always a moving target. So what you lift this week doesn’t matter, the real strength comes from lifting more, with better quality, consistently, over time.

Usually, I skip to the end of this diatribe in class, but I can feel my students tuning me out, hearing it as an excuse to not divulge what they assume will be an unimpressive number. I know that I am leaving the conversation without impressing them, without changing their minds, and without furthering their understanding of the nature of weightlifting as a lifelong endeavor.

Woman in a grey tank top and camo leggings using a hex bar to squat
(Photo from Unsplash)

I get a similar look from my students when we talk about running. Although there is the practical difference that most of them have, at least, done some running. But again, they have the mindset that speed is what matters and seem completely focused on the goal of being “faster than” rather than any interest in the intrinsic value of running for its own sake.

I try to encourage more open-minded appreciation for the achievement of doing the running, even if it isn’t fast or far, by sharing that I am slow and that it is a challenge for me. I also talk about how I just don’t think I’m a natural runner, but I enjoy it anyway, and I like that I’m slowly improving, even if my current reality isn’t impressive. I want to impress upon them the consistency, the effort, and my willingness to push through the discomfort. But I don’t know how to help them switch their mindsets away from prioritizing being better than others in order for the effort to be worthwhile.

In fact, at this age, asking them what they enjoy doing is synonymous with asking them what they are good at. They enjoy most what they find easy to do, and what they receive the most positive support and praise for. If you ask a kid why they don’t like doing something, they will likely tell you because it is hard. This is a deeply held and completely natural response, and yet I find it frustrating both as a teacher and as a fitness enthusiast trying to spread my love of an active lifestyle. How do we teach kids to be open to the process, not just the destination?

I’m not sure how to convince a student that a physical activity is worthwhile, even if the numbers are not impressive. But, I am certain that however we do it, it needs to begin before I meet them in middle school. By the age of 12, most kids are ready to judge an effort based on the final score.

And this is a problematic point of view, if we want to raise kids into adults who can enjoy active, healthy lives. Not only will they be terribly limited in their own activities if they only enjoy them when they are “good” at them, but it constrains their perceptions of other people. Exercise is worthwhile and healthful for everybody and every body. Old, young, fat, thin, strong, weak, healthy, sick, we all benefit from being physically active. No population hasn’t been shown to be able to improve with regular physical activity. Even people in their eighties, lifting weights seated in a chair, have improved muscle strength, bone density, and prevented falls, when following a consistent program. But you won’t become that old person lifting weights if you think that you shouldn’t bother because you’re not any good at it.

And so I try to model doing the work and enjoying it, even though there’s plenty room for growth.

If we fail to teach them otherwise, what happens to these kids as they grow up and learn that it is more complicated than they assumed? What happens when their bodies prove to be imperfect, messy, complicated things that reflect all sorts of life experiences, genetic predispositions, and random chance? Will they learn to be more forgiving, more open-minded about success, and more tolerant of diversity? Or will they grow up to be forever dissatisfied, or filled with self-loathing at their seeming failures, or give up before they ever really try because it wasn’t as easy as it “should” be? I hope not. I hope I can help them find the joy in the everyday, in the journey and the process.

Woman in gloves holding the ropes of a boxing ring, facing the camera straight on
(Photo from Unsplash)

What do you do to ensure that you are teaching a love of movement to the next generation? How do you measure success?

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found asking kids hard questions, picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

fitness · kids and exercise

Twist surprise endings? For movies– fine; for exercise studies, not so fine

I’m not a horror fan at all.  The blood and gore just gross me out, even if they’re comically unrealistic. But the worst part for me (which I know is the best part for others) is the surprise twists, especially at the end.  I get confused, distracted, scared if it’s scary, and really grossed out to the point of nightmares sometimes. And this includes experiences even after the age of 10. So I don’t watch them.

We know to steel ourselves for surprise twists at the end of movies.  But who prepares themself for an out-of-the-blue and contrary-to-the-plot twist in an article on  the connections between physical activity and health in kids? Not me, and probably not you.

 

Square computer-generated sad person, with "This person is not available" message.
Square computer-generated sad person, with “This person is not available” message.

 

So imagine my surprise when, while reading an article reporting results of a study finding a correlation between more time spent being physically active and better metabolic health among adolescents, it switches gears completely at the end, saying this:

Professor Bell explains: “This suggests that it’s never too late to benefit from physical activity, but also that we need to remove barriers that make activity hard to maintain. Keeping it up is key. This includes making weight loss via diet a priority, since higher weight is itself a barrier to moving.”

 

Say what?!
Say what?!

balloon with typographical marks indicating "What?!"
balloon with typographical marks indicating “What?!”

Here is what the study itself said:

A group about 1800 girls and boys born around 1991-92 were studied on three different occasions from 2003 to 2008.  The researchers were looking for connections between levels of physical activity and biological markers of their overall metabolic health (e.g. cholesterol types, triglycerides, etc.– 230 in total).  What they found was this:

  • Better metabolic health was associated with recent moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, regardless of previous activity patterns (this is a bit more complex, but basically correct).
  • Worse metabolic health was associated with more sedentary activity patterns.
  • The correlation between moderate-to-vigorous activity and metabolic health wasn’t weaker for subgroups with higher body fat (which could mean those who have a history of less physical activity, or also those with higher BMI).

They conclude here:

Our results support associations of physical activity with metabolic traits that are small in magnitude and more robust for higher MVPA [moderate to vigorous physical activity] than lower sedentary time. Activity fluctuates over time, but associations of current activity with most metabolic traits do not differ by previous activity. This suggests that the metabolic effects of physical activity, if causal, depend on most recent engagement.

There’s nothing here about losing weight as a causal factor or salient feature in their analysis.  So why did the main author say that in the article? I decided to dig a little deeper, which means going to the original full article.  I’m doing it, so you don’t have to– it’s part of the service we provide at Fit is a Feminist Issue.

 Person in tuxedo, holding a tray with message "full service".
Person in tuxedo, holding a tray with message “full service”.

 

Here’s what’s going on: in their discussion of where their study fits in the literature on metabolic health, physical activity, body weight, and risks for e.g. type 2 diabetes in youth, they say this:

much of the association of higher activity with lower subsequent adiposity is driven by reverse causation in this data… [there appears to be] a lowering effect of total activity on fat mass and blood pressure… The standardised effect size was 6 times larger in the reverse direction, however—from fat mass to inactivity—suggesting that adiposity affects activity levels more than activity levels affect adiposity.

Effect sizes matter a great deal for public health messaging since the existence of an association, or indeed a causal effect, does not alone describe its importance. Future work should compare magnitudes of effect size between common risk factors as the rate of discovery and the need to prioritise limited public health resources both increase.

The researchers say their results (and literature) support the idea that (in adolescents), body weight affects physical activity levels up to 6 times as much as activity level affects body weight.  This part is no surprise, as loads of studies support the view that exercise doesn’t result in much of any weight loss.

Here’s a surprise, though (and this one isn’t scary, so it’s okay to keep reading): saying that body weight influences physical activity (that is, kids with higher body weights tend to be less active) means to the researchers that we need to work on our public health messaging, as this is very important.

YES!  Of course we need to work on this. Movement at every size and shape and ability (and age, too, of course) helps us in just about every way.

But then (now the scary part is coming, be warned), the main researcher, Joshua Bell (not the violinist, I assume) has to go and say that, because higher weights are a barrier to increased physical activity, that kids should “make weight loss via diet a priority.”

A big NO.
A big NO.

 

Why no? Because 1) no one knows how to bring about and maintain weight loss via diet in kids (or anyone else); 2) we do know how to remove barriers to increased physical activity for kids with higher body weights. How do we do this?

  • attack fat shaming and weight stigmatization of kids everywhere we find it;
  • create opportunities for fun, non-competitive, easy-to-do movement for kids, done at their own pace and for reasonable time lengths, with no measuring, and lots of assistance and support;
  • work on ways to incorporate those conditions for movement into the everyday lives of kids and the people around them;
  • never use the word diet again around them (or anyone, for that matter).

This kind of public health messaging and programming is something we can all agree to.  And that’s no surprise.

The End, with scary shadowy castle in background.
The End, with scary shadowy castle in background.